Women of the Wall has posted a powerful piece by Vanessa Ochs about the oppressive, Orwellian, and maddening experience of engaging in organized prayer at the Kotel if you happen to have the wrong set of genitalia.
In a bizarre collusion between synagogue and state, Israeli police videotape women worshippers, determine whether their tallitot are likely to (according to the actual wording of the law) “offend the feelings of others,” and signal whether women should actually wrap them around their necks like scarves just in case.
Sadder still is Vanessa’s spirtual exhaustion about waging a fight that she and other shave been engaged in for decades:
[W]hen I first became one of the organizers of Women of the Wall, I had wondered if my daughters could celebrate their bat mitzvahs at the Wall. Each came of age and it was still not possible. I have a granddaughter now, and she will soon turn four. Will it be legal for Jewish women to pray as Jews at the Wall when she comes of age? I could only be optimistic about that possibility only if there were young people to develop new strategies for securing the rights of women at the Wall and beyond. What strategies did I have in mind? Not bringing the matter to the Israeli Supreme Court: done, and dragged on over years. International petitions, letter writing campaigns, done. Meeting with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, with the leadership of Hadassah, the world’s largest association of Jewish women: done. Books written, articles in newspapers, magazines, CNN coverage, social media, facebook: done too. I was looking for strategies that hadn’t yet been invented.
She also writes about her hesitation in approaching what has become “a giant outdoor gender-segregated right-wing Orthodox synagogue.” That’s exactly how lately I have come to feel about the Wall. On my last trip to Israel, in March, I was on a lightning archaeological tour of the digs at the rear of the Kotel plaza — and not once was I tempted to leave the tour and approach the wall itself. I found a lot more meaning in the excavations on the south side of the Temple Mount, where you can actually walk on the steps where pilgrims once entered the Temple compound, where you can see the stone market stalls where vendors sold animals for sacrifice — and, as far as I can tell, no cops or religious bullies pay you any mind at all.
I suppose its feels like capitulation to surrender the Kotel to the haredi authorities, but sometimes a little Rabbi Yochannan-like reinvention is necessary to save a Jewish soul.